Listening to Voices: Creative Disruptions with the Hearing Voices Network

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch of Arts, English and Languages

Abstract

In the context of mental health services, voice-hearers feel the effects of academic language-use in their everyday lives through 'othering' languages and stigmatising labels. This project seeks to learn how to listen to 'others' and to counter oppressive structures of language-use by building a trans- and inter-disciplinary network of expertise in listening. It brings together voice-hearing networks, independent artists and academics to develop a suite of resources for creative listening practices. These stakeholders will collaborate to design the project activities and outputs.

'Listening to Voices' asks 'what would it be like to learn to listen together/differently?' How might creative listening practices enable individuals and communities to become more attuned to the voices of 'others' previously marginalized, repressed or ignored? It focuses on listening as the site of meaningful exchange and collaboration between the academy and those outside it, recognising that Hearing Voices groups in Scotland and N.Ireland are experts in developing innovative and carefully thought out listening practices in relation to multiple and complex voices. Similarly, the early career researchers facilitating the research are also experts in listening practices developed in three different disciplines: in this case focusing on a cross-disciplinary approach that relates to the multiple voices of (1) poetic, (2) musical and (3) narrative texts.

The aim of this exchange is to disrupt hierarchies of knowledge and power, where 'expert' academics conduct research on 'subject' communities and then create texts that reproduce aspects of this power structure. All co-created texts that result from this project will be subjected to the disruptive effect of 'other' voices, and creative means (musico, poetic, lyrical) will be used to display the results of those disruptions within the text itself. The Latin for 'text' is 'tissue' or 'woven' thing. The resulting guide to listening and all other outputs (including sound art works) will make visible the layers of meaning that represent the struggle for authority in the tissue of a collaboratively produced text, woven from the voices of voice-hearers, academics and artists. By making visible and audible the creative disruptions (in, for example, 'overwriting', erasure or annotations), these texts will foreground what is challenging and meaningful about the collaborative process and the politics of authority written over and into the fabric of the 'finished' text.

The resultant listening guide will be downloadable from the website. It will also be published in a limited printed run to be given out for free via Hearing Voices Networks. It will be made available to all project partners, and distributed at Intervoice 2015.

This data will form the basis for co-authored journal articles, which will use the innovative listening practices developed in the creation and disruption of the listening guide in order to re-imagine academic writing practices, in allowing 'other' voices within academic texts to become obvious and 'audible'. Academic practices can force the suppression of certain forms of voice but these voices resurface, for example, in the footnotes of academic texts which become places where 'other' voices (e.g. subjective, doubting, meandering, hyper-critical, comic) are allowed to be present. These places also clearly echo some aspects of voice hearing experience and therefore demonstrate resonance between the forms of expertise outlined above. This is not to say that the practice of footnoting is analogous to the experience of voice-hearing, but to foreground how academic texts claim to be objective, rational and authoritative, and place the subjective, personal and multiple at the bottom of a hierarchy of knowledge, yet academic footnotes reveal that these texts always already contain within themselves a kernel of recognition of precisely the kinds of knowledge they deem to be 'other'.

Planned Impact

The project will impact directly on Hearing Voices Networks in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland; early career researchers; and artists who are collaborating in the project, by up-skilling the participants in good listening practices found both within and outside of academia, which provide the foundation for sustainable interdisciplinary co-production. By empowering a much wider range of individuals and communities in this practice, and in creative disruptions to 'authoritative' texts, the project fulfills and extends the aims of the Connected Communities Programme to encourage civic engagement and enable participation and resilience.

The Hearing Voices groups involved in the project will benefit from developing key leadership skills in designing and delivering the retreat, and by contributing to the content and shaping the form of the LtV guide, all of which is likely to result in improved health and wellbeing by building capacity and enriching feelings of achievement and self-worth. These outcomes will be measured via evaluation activities carried out with participating HVN groups and leaders in key meetings. The groups will benefit from the opportunity to publicize their activities by distributing the LtV Guide postcards, with the potential to attract new supporters and sustain their support structures. By increasing public awareness about voice hearing, the project will impact the wider public to help to reduce stigma and the social inequalities that follow, thereby redressing hermeneutic injustice and improving social cohesion.

The influence of 'Listening to Voices' project will reach far beyond the confines of academia. The free, downloadable version of the LtV guide to best practice in listening (along with the printed version disseminated by HVN groups) will be of practical value to voice hearers, mental health professionals, therapists, carers, facilitators, researchers, artists, writers, and those seeking to listen to human and non-human 'others'. The project website (disseminated via Intervoice and its network of at least 23 different international networks of voice hearers) will share tactics for creative disruption of authoritative texts, equipping community-based practitioners and academics with methods of resistance and fresh modes of engagement with hierarchies of knowledge and power, and changing organizational culture and practices for the better. Evaluation of the reach of the LtV guide, its usefulness and potential application will be measured using web-based survey and evaluative tools applied at the point of download of the guide.

The original methodology of inviting community partners to edit, erase and illustrate the texts collated by academics from their ideas about good practice in listening, together with the novel technique of presenting this 'disrupted' text to make visible the politics at work when diverse groups are brought together in collaboration promises to be useful for a much wider body of community groups, NGOs, and policy-makers. This potential impact will be made possible by participation at InterVoice, where leading researchers in voice hearing from around the world meet alongside representatives of international HV Networks. By raising awareness about the lived experience of voice hearers in the UK and best practice in listening, the project has the potential to increase the effectiveness of mental health public services and policy.

The academic outputs will impact upon theory-based researchers who do not actively collaborate with non-academic partners but seek to understand the effects of methods of listening, creativity and collaboration on community empowerment. The sound art will engage a much broader general audience by introducing them to listening practices and the relevant expertise of voice hearing networks and academics perhaps not previously encountered in everyday life.

Publications


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McConnell, G (2016) Listening to Voices: Creative Disruptions with the Hearing Voices Network in About Advocacy (The Scottish Independent Advocacy Alliance Magazine)
 
Title Listen if you Dare: A(n Unlikely) Companion to Voice Hearing 
Description A 48-page booklet on the experience of voice-hearing as it relates to listening and being listened to. This incorporates illustrations and artworks created by designer Sara Nevay in collaboration with hearing voices groups (community co-partners). It also includes typographic and design-based explorations of voice-hearing disruptions that make the text a creative and artistic object as well as a factual text or publication. 
Type Of Art Artefact (including digital) 
Year Produced 2015 
Impact The development of creative means to help readers of information on voice-hearing experience something of the disruptiveness of what it might be like to hear voices have elicited comments from users regarding the usefulness of this creative approach. Feedback from users so far have included comments such as 'the written form conveys a highly significant level of intrusion and distraction. I would like to use the companion with clinical staff to raise awareness of the experience of voice hearing, to hopefully build greater understanding and empathy for patients who hear voices. It must be right that we can bring some humanity to our clinical understanding of hearing voices' And a number of others convey a sense of the importance of the originality of this approach in the field. 
URL http://www.listeningtovoices.org.uk/res/ListenIfYouDare.pdf
 
Title Listening to Voices immersive audio work 
Description Created by Pedro Rebelo and research participants, the Listening to Voices sound piece is a 30 minute immersive audio work employing three dimensional binaural audio techniques and is to be experienced with headphones. The piece aims to delve into the experiential phenomenon of hearing voices. All vocal materials for the piece were gathered during a retreat with voice-hearers in 2015 during which activities focusing on listening were conducted, as well as interviews and field recording sessions. The work takes the listener through different sound environments and introduces the experience of listening to voices through short narrative fragments, descriptions articulating how the voices relate to the acoustic world and enacted performances. The work is structured in four sections. A long introduction presents the experience of voice-hearing through short personal stories and ends with an enactment of the experience of hearing negative voices. The remaining two sections are episodes ("Lab" and "Restaurant") which focus on the relationship between voices and the acoustic environment. "Lab" features accounts which attempt to describe the phenomenon of hearing voices and reflects on the challenges the medical profession has in understanding this condition. "Restaurant" explores how voices are triggered by everyday sound environments and often arise out of saturated listening experiences. The piece ends with a third episode "Night" which is based on an enacted performance exploring the role of positive voices and thoughts. The enacted performances were fully improvised and featured only members of the voice-hearing community. 
Type Of Art Composition/Score 
Year Produced 2016 
Impact To date (Feb 2016) the audio work has been played over 300 times via the project website since its launch on 12th January 2016, as well as via mp3 players at the project launch, at which 50 people had the chance to hear the work in part or in full, as well as in talks in workshops held in Belfast, Durham, Norwich and Glasgow. Many have reported a change of attitude concerning the voice-hearing experience through listening to the audio work - an enlarged understanding about the nature of the experience and a greater sense of empathy towards those who experience voice-hearing. The audio work is also available on Pedro Rebelo's website: https://soundcloud.com/pedro-rebelo and has also been embedded in the Hearing Voices Ireland website: http://www.voicesireland.com/listening-to-voices-project-in-conjunction-with-hearing-voices-ireland-hvi/ 
URL http://www.listeningtovoices.org.uk/
 
Description The most significant achievements from the award are:
- The creation of the Listen (If You Dare) companion as a radical, original, disrupted text that was developed through;
- A new methodology for participatory research and collaborative engagement that foregrounded the politics of authority, supported by;
- A genuinely collaborative working agreement, which detailed the support and conditions each partner would provide and work within (e.g. community partner, academic, individual). This document, created at the start of the award period, was discussed and reworked until each party was happy with it.

The award objectives as detailed below were broadly all met.
1. Our objective of 'Developing creative listening as a practice' focused on the documenting and better understanding the expert listening practices of voice-hearers. We achieved this through our primary research method of a creating a shared space within a retreat setting with voice-hearers. Through working with voice-hearers to understand and swap their listening practices with those of academics, and capturing these through written notes and audio, we (academics and voice-hearers) wove these insights into the reflective and provocative sound piece and the disruptive Listen (if you dare) companion text.

2. Co-Disruption of academic textual practices. This objective was directly achieved through the process of the co-created companion text. Early, researcher-led drafts of the texts (as outputs from an intensive retreat with academics and voice-hearers) were repeatedly given to voice-hearer networks to actively challenge and disrupt a potentially authoritative text. These visual disruptions were retained in the final companion text, creating a visually complex palimpsest of overwriting, challenges, and commentary feeding into the overall text.

3. Development of radical and disruptive musico/poetic/lyrical academic writing practices. The methods of creation of the companion text were designed to challenge the core academic research team and their traditional textual practices. Working with a designer (with a textile and co-design background) and a software developer/artist to create a visual text that represented the rich heard and felt experiences of voice-hearing was challenging. It required flexible, responsive ways of working with the community and academics in order to find ways of visually drawing together multiple voices to form a plane in which artistic, voice-hearing and academic practice would coalesce. This also impacted a wider group employed on the project. The multi-voiced intentionality of the project and its outcomes challenged the creative design practices of the designer and developer too.

4. Understanding the effects of language. We sought to discover how academic language-use concerning mental health affects voice-hearers through the hierarchical language of 'others' (e.g. 'researcher' and 'researched'), stigmatising labels, and the imposition of vocabularies that constrain expression. We explored the use of language in part through our methods of co-creation, using group activities that provoked conversation amongst voice-hearers and academics on the connotations and understanding of terminology and power structures. Threads from these discussions were then embedded in the companion text, using or avoiding particular phrasing to evoke or provoke responses from the the disruptive voices in the text itself. We also explicitly acknowledged the dangerous nature of the work, allowing the text to use 'non-academic' words including swearing and colloquialisms, as well as recognising that the text could potentially have a harmful or upsetting effect on those directly affected by voice-hearer. Within the interactive website component, we explored visually how words falling away can challenge and disrupt understanding.
Exploitation Route See 'Narrative Impact'.
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Creative Economy,Digital/Communication/Information Technologies (including Software),Education,Healthcare
 
Description 250 printed copies of the companion to voice-hearing created through the award have been distributed to private, public and voluntary sector organisations and individuals via a variety of networks, including through the dissemination of the work via the Scottish Recovery Network, Hearing Voices Network (and other community partner) networks, the public launch event, and engagement activities such as workshops and talks. As a result of this dissemination, a broad range of organisations and individuals from the UK and internationally have specifically requested copies for use within their organisations or networks. These include: a board member for Scottish hospitals; learning development officer for mental health services working across the South of England; network co-ordinator for mental health rehabilitation services in Australia; the leader of a national Hearing Voices Network. So far, those requesting copies report intentions to use the companion in the training of clinical staff in order to convey a sense of humanity and empathy in the experience of voice hearing; to enhance practice of peer workers via understanding of mental health experiences; as a resource in libraries and resource centres for voice-hearing groups and/or mental health support and rehabilitation groups/networks; and for use in peer support and hearing voices groups. Researchers have used the Companion and the sound piece in training workshops with undergraduate mental health nursing students and Master's level Arts and Humanities students at Queen's University Belfast. Further workshops are planned with mental health nursing students at the University of the West of Scotland and staff at both the State Hospital for Scotland (Carstairs) and at Royal Edinburgh Hospital (via an open workshop planned at The Hive). The research team (including community partners) have also been invited to share their findings at the Joint Special Interest Group in Psychosis (Durham University and TEWV NHS Foundation Trust) which aims to foster dialogue between mental health professionals, service users, academic researchers and students and to attend as part of ESRC 'Have Your Say' mental health consultation event in Brighton, with a similar audience. Community partners report the impacts of the project as being: a broadening of the dialogue around voice-hearing via the unique participatory approach between academics and voice-hearers; a greater sense of community, confidence and resourcing within specific peer support groups who were involved in the project; increased networking between local organisations connected through the dissemination of the research outputs. The wider public have been engaged by two key media outputs. The first was engagement with STV Glasgow to create a short film focusing on the work of community partner Time and Space which features short description of the associated AHRC research. This became part of a 5-part series shown on Scottish Television for Mental Health Awareness Week, screened as part of Scotland's Mental Health Arts and Film Festival and shown at the Mind Media awards ceremony. The film has now been widely shared on social media (with thousands of views) and the community partners involved report increased social media engagement, referrals to their service and further recognition for their work since this coverage (including a nomination for Evening Times Community Champion Health and Wellbeing Award). The second media output, which is in production, is a planned broadcast of the Listening to Voices sound piece on Resonance FM, along with interviews with the sound artist and Principal Investigator, on the process of creation of the piece. This broadcasts on DAB to greater London and online to a national and international arts and cultural audience. Other networking which is ongoing includes strengthening links with the Hearing the Voice research project at Durham University (primarily via engagement with the Joint Special Interest Group). It is hoped that this - and other opportunities for engagement with academics working in a similar field of enquiry - can lead to sharing of the emerging creative participatory methodologies developed as part of this research with other teams that are collaborations of diverse stakeholders. In particular, the creative practices developed in order to make more visible the nature and difficulty of collaboration itself within the finished outputs could be further used and developed as a means to demonstrate the complex interplay between the voices jostling for attention in such texts. There is also further work to do in terms of the use of the creative textual techniques developed for the Companion output in a specifically academic textual setting. Discussions are underway with theatre practitioners - directors and sound designers - in order to explore options for staging an immersive live performance of the research findings (combining content and creative elements developed for the written text with devices developed during creation of the sound piece). This has the potential to develop the immersive and disruptive experiential aspects of the research further as well as finding a wider public audience for the work. This is important with regards to our research aim regarding the reduction of stigma for voice-hearing communities.
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Communities and Social Services/Policy,Healthcare
Impact Types Cultural,Societal,Policy & public services
 
Description Collaboration with graphic designer 
Organisation CeraNova
Country United States of America 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution We introduced graphic designer Sara Nevay to our community partners and provided her with the text for her to design the booklet including illustrations, and the text for the postcards advertising the project.
Collaborator Contribution We invited graphic designer Sara Nevay to facilitate art-making and reflective sessions on our retreat with voice-hearers in May 2015. Sara was involved in 'disruption sessions' with the voice-hearing groups. Sara then designed and illustrated the 48-page booklet co-produced and co-designed by voice-hearers and academics, including the use of 13 fonts, and a series of postcards to advertise the project and images for the website.
Impact Listen (If You Dare): An Unlikely Companion to Voice-Hearing: a radical new text about voice-hearing experiences. Multidisciplinary: design; literary criticism; musicology.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Engagement focused website 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Patients, carers and/or patient groups
Results and Impact We created an engagement focused website sharing 3 keys resources:
- Listen (If You Dare): An Unlikely Companion to Voice-Hearing: a radical new text about voice-hearing experiences
- Listening to Voices: created by Pedro Rebelo and research participants, the Listening to Voices sound piece is a 30-minute immersive audio work employing three dimensional binaural audio techniques that aims to delve into the experiential phenomenon of hearing voices.
- Listen (If you Dare) Interactive Companion: an interactive text in which the user navigates part of the companion to voice-hearing text, triggering voice sounds and dealing with text that moves and falls away as she interacts with it; an experience intended to simulate some aspects of voice-hearing experience.

These resources have been utilised in Australia, the USA, Ireland, the UK and Europe. We have received requests for print copies of the companion (300 copies in total) to be distributed to voice-hearing groups, mental healthworkers, charities, third sector organisations, NHS employees, educators and individuals as a resources for understanding the experience and supporting voice-hearers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.listeningtovoices.org.uk
 
Description Press Release and Dissemination 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact A press release with a link to the project websites where all free resources are available was distributed widely among international network of third sectors organisations, academics, artists, researchers, students and the general public. The press release was used as the basis of an article in About Advocacy magazine which is sent to all MSPs as well as 982 organisations and individuals who have signed up to receive both hard and electronic copies of the magazine. The magazine has on average 3000 views per quarter and is promoted through a range of social media outlets.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Project Launch Event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Third sector organisations
Results and Impact 50 people attended the project launch in the Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow to celebrate the publication of the companion to voice-hearing, the immersive audio work and the interactive website, all of which were made available for free, along with postcards advertising the project. The audience include voice-hearers, their friends and families, mental health professionals and group leaders from the NHS, private practice and third section organisations, advocacy groups, creative professionals and the general public. The main impact was the sharing of resources that can be used by voice-hearers, mental health workers and educators who train doctors, nurses and carers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description STV Glasgow Feature Interview 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A Listening to Voices project researcher engaged with STV Glasgow to create a short film focusing on the work of community partner Time and Space with Voice Hearers and the associated AHRC research. This became part of a 5-part series shown to a general public audience on Scottish Television for Mental Health Awareness Week. It was also screened as part of Scotland's Mental Health Arts and Film Festival. The series subsequently won a Mind Media Award for Best Entertainment Programme and the film was shown at the awards ceremony in front of an audience of celebrities, media, mental health charities and philanthropists. The film has now been widely shared on social media (with thousands of views) and the community partners involved report increased social media engagement, referrals to their service and further recognition for their work since this coverage (including a nomination for Evening Times Communtiy Champion Health and Wellbeing Award).
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://shows.stv.tv/talk-tv/1332637-stv-glasgow-win-best-entertainment-programme-at-mind-media-award...
 
Description Scottish Recovery Network Newsletter - Launch of Website 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Scottish Recovery Network wrote a feature advertising the launch of the Listening to Voices website, sound piece and interactive web piece, which was published on their website and sent out as part of their monthly newsletter. This newsletter/website goes out to a wide range of public sector, third sector and individual workers in mental health, including NHS, AMHs, Universities, National Charities and other mental health networks. They also disseminated a link to a download of the Companion for its subscribers.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://scottishrecovery.net/listening-to-voices-new-website-launched/
 
Description Scottish Recovery Network Newsletter - Publication of Companion 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact The Scottish Recovery Network wrote a feature on the Listening to Voices research which was published on their website and sent out as part of their monthly newsletter. This newsletter/website goes out to a wide range of public sector, third sector and individual workers in mental health, including NHS, AMHs, Universities, National Charities and other mental health networks. They also disseminated a link to a download of the Companion for its subscribers. This generated a number of requests for printed copies of the Companion on its release and widened knowledge about the research with practitioners and third sector organisations in the field. A request was also received for a workshop and dissemination of the LtV resources to nurses and professionals working at the NHS State Hospital of Scotland - Carstairs - as a direct result of this publication.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://scottishrecovery.net/resource/listen-if-you-dare-new-text-about-voice-hearing/
 
Description Talk to Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Students, Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Postgraduate students
Results and Impact An interactive talk to Arts and Humanities Postgraduate Students at Queen's University Belfast, describing the project and process of collaboration and showcasing the companion to voice-hearing and playing samples from the immersive audio work. Followed by discussion of the challenges and benefits of collaborative research between academics and community groups, the weaknesses of current mental health care provision at national, local and institutional levels, the stigmatisation of mental health experience and its effects, and ways in which arts and humanities research methods and approaches can intervene in the this field of activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Talk to Mental Health Nursing Students, Queen's University Belfast 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Undergraduate students
Results and Impact A member of the project team gave a talk about voice-hearing and the Listening to Voices project to second year undergraduate mental health nursing students. This was met with interest and followed-up by sharing project resources for tutorial group discussion. A focus-group with these students is planned for later in 2016, to assess the utility and value of the project resources for mental health nursing education.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016